The United Nations condemned Russia for forcing thousands of Ukrainian children into adoption and making them Russian citizens.
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi said that Russia is violating the “fundamental principles of child protection” in wartime by giving Ukrainian children in occupied regions Russian passports and putting them up for adoption.
Ukrainian officials say as many as 14,000 children have been taken to Russia, and only 125 returned. The total may be far higher, the country’s human rights commissioner said.
“In the situation of war, you cannot determine if children have families or guardianship,” Grandi told BBC. “And therefore, until that is clarified, you cannot give them another nationality or having them adopted by another family.”
“This is something that is happening in Russia and must not happen,” Grandi added.
Filippo, who recently returned from a six-day tour of Ukraine, said that President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the UNHCR to “do more” to help children being forced into adoption
He also said his agency has no idea how many children have been shipped out of Ukraine, because Russia has been tight-lipped about the practice.
“We are seeking access [to that information] all the time, and access has been rather rare, sporadic, and not unfettered,” Grandi said.
Russia foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova shot back at Grandi’s comments, accusing him of being silent after children were killed in what she claimed was a Ukrainian shelling in the Donbas region after separatists declared independence in 2014.
“I also wish such officials from the UN had taken note of the colossal humanitarian assistance” Russia provided after the missile strikes, Zakharova told reporters.
Grandi said that millions have been displaced in Ukraine because the war, including at least 8 million who fled abroad and millions more who are internally displaced.
Nearly 3 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded in Russia — more than in any other European country, according to the most recent UNHCR data.
A Ukrainian presidential adviser said earlier this month that nearly 14,000 children had been “deported” to Russia from occupied areas of Ukraine, but Moscow has denied the accusations that the children were kidnapped.
Grandi predicted that the refugee crisis in Ukraine could go one of two ways as the conflict rages on — either more refugees could return for the warm season, which saw “hundreds of thousands” return last year, or continued fighting could create a new wave of refugees.
“What we have seen in the last few days is not very promising in this respect, everybody foresees that there will be a rise in hostilities, an escalation … and this is likely to generate a more displacement,” Gandi said.